Ekwanok Country Club

Last year, much was made of the centennial of Francis Ouimet’s historic victory in the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. No such hoopla will attend the 100th anniversary of Ouimet’s second major championship, the 1914 U.S. Amateur. Which is too bad because the site of his first amateur title (he won again in 1931) is one of this country’s loveliest venues. And Ekwanok Country Club in Manchester, Vermont, is no slouch in the history department, either.

Manchester, in the southwestern corner of the Green Mountain State, was an early vacation retreat for New Yorkers and New Englanders of means. One of Vermont’s first golf courses was a six-holer built for a local hotel in 1895, followed a few years later by a nine-hole layout where the men who would create Ekwanok—James L. Taylor of Brooklyn, New York, and Clarence M. Clark of Philadelphia—met. Taylor started buying land for a new club and suggested Walter J. Travis, a fellow member of Brooklyn’s Dyker Meadow Club and soon to be one of America’s top golfers, do the design.

When Travis visited in 1899, he brought along Scotsman John Duncan Dunn, nephew of Willie Dunn Jr. (runner-up in the first U.S. Open, designer of Shinnecock Hills), and son of prolific architect Tom Dunn. The property they surveyed had been a farm nestled in a mountain valley. In the club’s centennial history, historian Sydney N. Stokes described the terrain: “The rolling sweep of land with its beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains included a meandering stream that could provide rare opportunities for natural hazards. Unlike many courses built in that day with straightaway fairways, this Manchester land offered the possibility of a variety of holes, each designed differently and in accordance with the Scottish ideal.”

“The course was to be more than 6,000 yards long, at a time when few in the country surpassed 5,500,” wrote Bob Labbance in his biography of Travis, The Old Man. “Natural contours were to be enhanced by dozens of carefully constructed bunkers. Greens of all shapes and sizes were added. In an era when many course planners were content to march off 100 yards to the next cross bunker and merely leave stakes to designate greens, Travis and Dunn sought to establish a layout with carefully considered features that would take a principal position in American golf.”

Although the course bears the stamp of later architects including George Fazio, Geoffrey Cornish, and Bruce Hepner of Renaissance Golf Design, it retains much of its original Travis/Dunn character. Numerous bunkers still influence drives and threaten approaches. The greens are far from cookie-cutter. And most of all, the routing is totally natural, holes wandering in every direction, the stream, hills, and depressions used to maximum effect.

Some of those holes are still classics, such as the par-five 7th, which plays from an elevated tee into a dale then over a mini-mountain. Both 8 and 14 are medium-length par fours that angle right to left with trouble—sand, rough, sloped fairways—lurking. The 12th is a testing short par four that calls for flying the tee shot as far up a hill as possible before trying to judge the distance off a sloping lie to a much lower green.

The 1914 Amateur was the last significant event at Ekwanok, but the club has hosted a who’s who over the years, from Charles Blair Macdonald to Bobby Jones, while early professionals included George Low (second in the 1899 U.S. Open) and Horace Rawlins (winner of the first U.S. Open, in 1895). Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert joined in 1903 and was club president from ’04 to ’26; his magnificent home, Hildene, now open to the public, is just down the road.

In 1939, Ouimet returned for a tournament on the 25th anniversary of his Amateur triumph: A field of 240 played (twice what was expected), more than 700 spectators watched, and along with a large contingent of national press, Lowell Thomas delivered a radio broadcast from the men’s locker room. This year’s celebration will be more low key—an interclub match with The Country Club, a hickory tournament for members, maybe a dinner—but no less proud.